The U.S. Constitution Doesn’t Match the Demands of the Modern World
When the framers crafted the Constitution, they included the president’s oath of office. All presidents promise to defend and protect the Constitution from enemies, foreign and domestic. But what does that actually mean?
Does it apply to international attacks? The framers certainly thought so, but they had no conception of a cyber attack.
Does it apply to domestic rebellions? I’d argue that they did, as many of the founding generation supported the forceful suppression of rebellions.
What about public health crises? Here’s where it gets complicated. In 1793, when yellow fever broke out in Philadelphia, there was no conception of a federal response to the pandemic. Most of the government officials simply fled the city.
How, then, do we define dereliction of duty in the 21st century? On some issues, we’ve departed a great deal from the framers’ vision for the presidency. When faced with public health crises, we expect the president to do something, even if we don’t always agree about the extent of presidential action. Former President Trump’s approval rating continued to fall during the pandemic because he refused to take any action at all. His low poll numbers reflect the expansion of presidential expectations — Americans in 1793 or 1918 may not have expected presidents to address a pandemic, but in 2020 they did.
Read more about the framers’ expectations for presidential duty, how these expectations have evolved in the last 230 years, and what has remained the same in the original publication below:
From Washington to Trump: What is Dereliction of Duty? by Lindsay M. Chervinsky, Governing.